Expectations vs. reality of being back on campus

photo of a full lecture hall
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In the weeks leading up to the start of the fall 2021 semester, expectations and excitement were through the roof for most of us returning to campus and taking in-person classes. After all, we had just spent the last 18 months cooped up in our homes and doing online classes, and the prospect of a ‘real college experience’ is just what we needed. Nevertheless, it’s okay to feel bittersweet about your first couple of weeks back on campus. 

While it’s been exciting to return, it’s also a complete 180 change from what we’ve been used to this past year and a half. Instead of complaining that Zoom is exhausting, walking all over campus is exhausting. And rather than feeling disconnected from people, our social battery may be out before the day even begins. If you’re also struggling with the transition, the Clog’s got your back with some ways to cope.

In-person classes 

Most of us couldn’t wait to once again be in the coveted college lecture halls surrounded by peers and gawking up at professors. We eagerly anticipated taking notes in real-time, getting ready for school and even physically walking to class again. But if any of those aspects are now causing more anxiety than excitement, don’t fret — it’s normal! If walking around campus is proving to be harder than you expected or remember, give yourself more time and maybe plan a couple of stops along the way. If you’re worried about getting physically ready and dolled up for class, know that it’s absolutely fine to not look your best every day. Prioritize doing and wearing what makes you feel comfortable. And if you’re maybe just not enjoying in-person classes as much as you expected, that’s okay too. The world just flipped upside down and back, so if you got a little jumbled up along the way, be patient with yourself in trying to adjust. 

Social battery 

Even beyond looking forward to in-person classes, it’s safe to say that most of us couldn’t wait to once again have a social life. Meeting new people, going out and letting loose with others is a key component of the college experience and missing a year of school also took those experiences away from us. But it’s completely valid if things aren’t going the way you envisioned. Maybe you’re a new student and it’s harder than you thought to make genuine connections or maybe you’re a returning student and you’ve realized that some of the original friendships you made have faded. Or maybe you’re like me — a returning student who couldn’t wait to get back and be social again, but is too exhausted after classes, work and club activities to even think of socializing. 

No matter where you fall, remind yourself of these three things. Firstly, know that you’re not alone. Even if you feel like others around you don’t seem to be struggling, that’s not the case for a majority of the students. Secondly, school is just starting and you have all year to make the connections you’re hoping to foster. Finally, it’s completely okay to change your expectations.


With being back and trying to manage all the facets of college life that we had missed last year, there’s a lot more on our plates. Whether it’s new clubs, social events, having to cook and clean for yourself or walking to class, there seems to be less and less time during the day to do school work. Additionally, I also find myself exhausted once I finally get around to doing school work. As if that’s not enough, there’s also that little voice in the back of my head telling me that I need to do more — more units, more clubs, more volunteering, more internships, more jobs, more of just about everything. If this has been weighing on you, this is your sign and reminder that it’s much better to do only what you can actually handle. Try your best not to compare yourself to others since everyone’s situation is different, and focus on how you can best manage your life in addition to all of these other college life activities.

The tug-of-war you might be having between your expectations and your reality is normal. Even if you were super excited to be back at school, you are allowed to also be struggling with some of it. Be kind to yourself in adjusting and know that you’re not alone!

Contact Jackie Amendola at [email protected].